Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Freebie: It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson

Congratulations to the following winners of last week's "Fobbit Friday Freebie": Becky Leggieri (Grand Prize:  two signed copies of Fobbit, a Fobbit coffee mug, a Fobbit T-shirt, the audiobook version of Fobbit, a Fobbit tote bag, and Fobbit postcards), Nancy Simpson-Brice (Second Prize: one signed copy of Fobbit, the audiobook version of Fobbit, and a Fobbit tote bag), and Jeffrey Tretin (Third Prize: one signed copy of Fobbit).

This week's book giveaway is It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson from Graywolf Press.  I mentioned It's Fine By Me in a previous edition of "Front Porch Books" here at The Quivering Pen blog.  At that time, I wrote: "In an editor's note at the front of my advance reading copy, Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae notes that 'Over the next six years or so, Petterson's British publishers and Graywolf Press are planning to release four of his backlist titles: two novels, one collection of short stories, and one collection of essays. Beginning with the novel It's Fine By Me, they are being translated one at a time, in collaboration with Petterson.'"  It's Fine By Me features Arvid Jansen, a character returning from previous Petterson novels.  The plot synopsis:
Fans of Per Petterson’s other books in English will be delighted by this opportunity to observe Arvid Jansen in his youth from a fresh perspective. In It’s Fine By Me, Arvid befriends a boy named Audun. On Audun’s first day of school he refuses to talk or take off his sunglasses; there are stories he would prefer to keep to himself. Audun lives with his mother in a working-class district of Oslo. He delivers newspapers and talks for hours about Jack London and Ernest Hemingway with Arvid. But he’s not sure that school is the right path for him and feels that life holds other possibilities. Sometimes tender, sometimes brutal, It’s Fine By Me is a brilliant novel from the acclaimed author of Out Stealing Horses and I Curse the River of Time.
And to further whet your appetite, here are the book's opening lines:
I was thirteen years old and about to start the seventh class at Veitvet School. My mother said she would go with me on the first day--we were new to the area, and anyway she had no job--but I didn't want her to. It was the 18th of August, the sky was all grey, and as I opened the school gate and went into the playground, it started to rain. I pushed my sunglasses up my nose and walked slowly across the open expanse. It was deserted. Midway, I stopped and looked around. To the right there were two red prefabs, and straight ahead lay the squat, blue main building. And there was a flagpole with a wet, heavy flag clinging to the halyard. Through the windows I could see faces, and those sitting on the inside pressed their noses against the panes and watched me standing in the rain. It was bucketing down. It was my first day, and I was late.

Please note: this is a two-week contest; I'll be out of town next Friday for a romantic, Internet-free weekend getaway with my lovely wife as we celebrate 29 years of wedded bliss.  This is where we'll be staying:

Except you'll need to add about a foot of snow for an accurate picture

If you'd like a chance at winning It's Fine By Me, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries for two weeks until midnight on Dec. 13at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 14.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Front Porch Books: November 2012 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, Amazon and other sources.  Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books.  In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm just here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists.  Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released.

Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood (Europa Editions):  I do my best not to pick favorites among my Front Porch Books, attempting to keep the playing field as level as possible....but I've got to admit, this March 2013 release is perched high atop my always-growing To-Be-Read pile (i.e., the peak of Mt. NeverRest).  From the start, I've been hooked by the novel's plot.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
March 18, 1925. The day begins as any other rainy, spring day in the small settlement of Marah, Illinois. But the town lies directly in the path of the worst tornado in US history, which will descend without warning at midday and leave the community in ruins. By nightfall, hundreds will be homeless and hundreds more will lie in the streets, dead or grievously injured. Only one man, Paul Graves, will still have everything he started the day with –– his family, his home, and his business, all miraculously intact. Based on the historic Tri-State tornado, Falling to Earth follows Paul Graves and his young family in the year after the storm as they struggle to comprehend their own fate and that of their devastated town, as they watch Marah resurrect itself from the ruins, and as they miscalculate the growing resentment and hostility around them with tragic results. Beginning with its electrifying opening pages, Falling to Earth is at once a revealing portrayal of survivor's guilt and the frenzy of bereavement following a disaster, a meditation on family, and a striking depiction of Midwestern life in the 1920s.
Unscathed man turns community pariah.  Fascinating plot hook, eh?  It's a book that couldn't be more timely for our disaster-ravaged century and I predict Southwood's debut will earn a big readership.  Here are the Opening Lines:
      The cloud is black, shot through with red and orange and purple, a vein of gold at its crest. A mile wide end to end, it rolls like a barrel, feeding on rivers and farmland. Tethered and stabled animals smell it coming and lurch against their restraints. Swollen with river mud, it moves with a howl over the land, taking with it a cow, a cookstove, a linen tablecloth embroidered with baskets of flowers. A section of fencing, a clothes hanger, a coffee can. A house lifted up and dashed to earth. The side of a barn.
      The people in the town scatter; some find shelter. The men and women running through the streets are mothers and fathers, desperate to reach their children at the schools. There is no time; the cloud is rolling over them. The men and women screw their eyes shut tight and some scream but the wind screams louder and flings metal and wood and window glass though the streets. A Model T and its driver are hurled through the window of the hardware store. Telegraph poles snap and sail like javelins into houses. An old oak rips in two like paper torn in strips. Grass is torn from the ground.
      The school, the town hall, the shops at the rail yard fold in on themselves and the people inside. And as the cloud passes, the fires begin, lapping at the broken town.

The Way of the Dog by Sam Savage (Coffee House Press): I've been attracted to Savage's fierce, uncompromising style ever since I read his second novel Firmin, which he published when he was 66 (his debut, The Criminal Life of Effie O., was published a year earlier--renewing the spark of hope in late-blooming writers still waiting to break into print).  His latest novel, The Way of the Dog, is one continuous narrative with no breaks for chapters, only some white space between paragraphs.  It looks like another of those short books which can be devoured in one sitting but digested for weeks afterward.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
Sam Savage's most intimate, tender novel yet follows Harold Nivenson, a decrepit, aging man who was once a painter and arts patron. The death of Peter Meinenger, his friend turned romantic and intellectual rival, prompts him to ruminate on his own career as a minor artist and collector and make sense of a lifetime of gnawing doubt. Over time, his bitterness toward his family, his gentrifying neighborhood, and the decline of intelligent artistic discourse gives way to a kind of peace within himself, as he emerges from the shadow of the past and finds a reason to live, every day, in "the now."
The Opening Lines will give you a good sense of the book's rhythm and direction:
I am going to stop now. A few loose threads to cut, some bits and pieces to gather up and label, so people will know, and then I stop.

I had a little dog. We went through the world together for as long as he lasted, through the world this way and that, just to be going. At the end he had grown so weak I had to prod him onward with my shoe. He is buried somewhere. His name was Roy. I miss him.

I am not well.

Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle 6 by Susan Jackson Rodgers (Press 53):  It's always a delight to receive a new story collection from Press 53 in the mail, never more so than when I opened the envelope and out fell this book.  Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle 6 probes the anxieties facing women (and men--but especially women) in, as Anthony Doerr says, "the full, confusing bloom of adulthood."  Blurbworthiness: "Don't be fooled by the lovely, lady-like voices that lure you into the twenty-two short stories in Susan Jackson Rodgers' Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle 6.  It's hard not to be pulled into the deceptively charming female heads and start laughing along, relating to the frazzled divorced woman unhappy to bump into her ex-boyfriend, or the little girl innocently feeding birds outside by the pool.  Then a devastating twist towards the end lurches your heart out and shocks you so much you have to go back to reread the beginning to see what the author had slyly slipped past that you'd barely noticed.  Think: Flannery O'Connor meets Desperate Housewives.  A poetic, hilarious and haunting collection." (Susan Shapiro, author of Overexposed)  Here's just one of those shiny, sharp-barbed lures--the Opening Lines of the first story, "Fiona in the Vortex":
I agreed to water my former neighbor's plants while she was out of town, even though her husband had died and I was nervous about going into her house alone. I thought the ghost of this husband might be hanging around, waiting for me to show up. He might be miffed that I had neglected his wife in recent years. She and I had once been friends, but we drifted apart after my own marriage. When I lived next door to Fiona, I wasn't married.   was convinced I would always be alone. This fear occasionally led me to test out my powers of attraction. I'm ashamed to say that I tested my powers on the dead husband--well, he wasn't dead yet. I gardened in my bathing suit, bending over to weed, my backside facing Fiona's kitchen window. I stretched languorously, in such obvious ways I often embarrassed myself and went inside. Fiona, fifteen years older than I was, had always been kind to me; I even felt strangely protective towards her. Yet there I was trying to lure Max, her husband--to do what? I didn't even know.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus (Algonquin Books):  Backhaus' debut novel opens with a husband hunkered down behind his bedroom door, holding his breath, trying not to make a sound for fear that his wife will hear him:
I am crouched in the darkness behind my bedroom door, listening for my wife to crack the silence with a sneeze or cough or some other little noise that tells me it's not safe to leave. She is down the hall, in the room meant for children, and I know she leaves her door open, and that her ears never sleep, that they listen for my exit noises, the retracting dead bolt and creaking floorboards. Heart without peace, she might just be lying in bed awake, holding her breath. A river of sweat flows down my spine and pools between my legs, but I cannot move, not until I'm sure she won't hear me slinking out.
I don't know about you, but if those words were a magnet, then I'm the little metal shavings drawn to them with a snap and quiver.  Here's the Jacket Copy to provide more details on what promises to be an intriguing read:
Thomas Tessler has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives right in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only occasionally, in the wee hours of the night, to pick up food at the grocery store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Unable to cope with a devastating loss, Thomas has become isolated and withdrawn. He is hikikomori.  Desperate for one last chance to salvage their life together, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant attuned to the hikikomori phenomenon, to lure Thomas back into the world. Fleeing from her own shattering experience, Megumi has buried her pain in a fast life spent in nightclubs with nameless men. Now she will try to help Thomas and Silke as a “rental sister,” as they are known in Japan. At first Thomas remains steadfast and sequestered, but as he grows to trust Megumi, a deepening and sensual relationship unfolds.  Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is a taut novel that packs a big philosophical punch. In this revelatory and provocative debut, Jeff Backhaus asks, What are the risks of intimacy? Can another woman ever lead a husband back to his wife? And what must we surrender for love?

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte Press):  Once again, Melanie Benjamin turns her sights on the past (after exploring the lives of the real-life Alice in Wonderland and Mrs. Tom Thumb) in this novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Benjamin says she was drawn to Lucky Lindy's wife because she was the quiet wife who was often lost behind the headlines of her heroic husband.  But AML was a strong woman in her own right.  A prolific writer, she left a wealth of material (letters, diaries, poems) for Benjamin to work with.  Take a gander at the Jacket Copy:
For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.
The Aviator's Wife has been on my radar for a long time, and I was thrilled to find it on my front porch yesterday.  I opened its pages at random and found myself in the scene where Anne, Charles and their nanny Betty first discover Baby Charles is missing.  Anne has just gotten out of the bathtub, ready to surrender herself to "the feathery, bottomless mattress," when:
      ....Betty burst into the room without knocking; she was breathless, as if she'd been running.
      "Do you have the baby, Mrs. Lindbergh?"
      "No. Maybe the colonel [Charles] has him?" Without replying, she had wheeled and was out of the room and down the stairs. After a moment, during which I could only stand, strangely rooted to the floor as if my legs had forgotten how to move, Betty and Charles came running to me.
      "Do you have the baby, Charles?" I asked, still puzzled. Why were we looking for little Charlie, at ten o'clock at night?
      My husband pivoted and sprinted toward the nursery. I followed, and for a second I held my breath, remembering that the night-light was still on. But then I saw that all the lights were on; my baby's room was filled with cheerful light that revealed an open window, a curtain flailing about in the wind--and an empty crib.

The Man on the Third Floor by Anne Bernays (The Permanent Press):  McCarthy-era homophobia is at the center of Bernays' tenth novel.  Thomas Mallon addressed the same theme four years ago in his novel Fellow Travelers, and Bernays appears to have followed suit with her own sensitive, compelling portrayal of secrecy and risk in an era when secrets were quickly becoming a way of life against political fear-mongers.  Here's the Jacket Copy for The Man on the Third Floor:
Walter Samson is a successful book editor in post World War Two New York. He has more than money, an interesting wife, Phyllis, two smart children and reason to believe he's leading the good American life. That is, until he meets Barry Rogers by chance. Barry is blue collar, handsome, single and poor. Walter is instantly drawn to Barry and, despite the considerable risks, installs him in the Samson's three story house on the the Upper East Side, where the two men try to keep their amorous relationship secret.
I particularly liked Bernays' Opening Lines to the novel:
     After news of the unusual goings-on in my house finally escaped, like a gas leak from a faulty stove, some of my so-called liberal New York City friends characterized my life using words that shocked even me. "Deplorable," "disgusting," "unnatural," "selfish," "hedonistic," "bizarre." I hadn't hurt them in any way, hadn't threatened their way of life. Up until then we had had a lot of fun together.
      Actually, this didn't happen. What did happen was that I was met with looks of incredulity fueled by moral judgment, averted eyes, hems and haws and, in some cases, total silence. I only imagined that they called me those things in the privacy of their own homes and to each other. "Can you believe it, good old Walter--all these years?" One or two of them, I guessed, were secretly envious because I had managed to fool everyone for quite a while and because they would have liked to do as I did but didn't have the nerve.

Thrill-Bent by Jan Richman (Tupelo Press):  Ask any of my kids about my relationship with rollercoasters and they'll be quick to give you a performance mocking my behavior on the mechanized peaks-and-valleys death rides.  It involves a lot of white knuckles, squeezed-shut eyes, chins tucked into collarbones and, occasionally, bile rising in the back of the throat.  Oh, and crying like a little girl.  I love rollercoasters in theory only; the only thing worse for me is when the Ferris Wheel stops with me at the peak and one of my devil-spawn children starts rocking our car back and forth with malicious glee.  That's why I'm both fascinated and frightened by Jan Richman's new novel in which she casts herself as the fictional Jan Richman, a freelance journalist writing about amusement parks.  Setting my shredded nerves aside, I hope to step inside the pages soon.  Besides, any novel that compares itself to Kerouac and Ignatius P. Reilly spending a day at Six Flags seems pretty cool to me.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
Journalist and armchair thrill-seeker Jan Richman gets a freelance assignment to write about the nation's antique wooden roller coasters. Jan takes off across the U.S. to report on a fanatical sub-culture and her picaresque research junket dovetails with the wedding of her Tourette's-riddled father, whom she hasn't seen in years. Brazen and stingingly funny, Thrill-Bent recalls the tautly observed mayhem of On the Road, with linguistic crescendos to rival A Confederacy of Dunces, as Jan zooms from Coney Island to New Orleans to the San Fernando Valley, learning how to be truly impulsive in a buttoned-down world.
I'm really looking forward to Thrill-Bent.  It seems like it's all the fun without the vomit.

Margaret from Maine by Joseph Monninger (Plume):  Even though, on the surface, Joseph Monninger's new novel looks a little Nicholas Sparks-y, I'm eager to give it a try based on its gut-wrenching Opening Lines alone:
      The last sound Maine Guardsman Sgt. Thomas Kennedy heard was the whine of a mosquito. At least he thought it was the last sound, although what he thought and what actually occurred had little to do with each other. He raised his right hand to brush it away, conscious of the heat under his helmet, the dry, sweltering sweat that soaked his uniform. And now a mosquito.
      As his hand lifted, he saw a glint--just a fracture of light--and he glanced down at Private First Class Edmond Johnson, who happened to be changing the back rear tire of the team's Humvee. In that instant, many things did not make sense.
      What were they doing here, in Afghanistan, to begin with? How had he come all this way--from Bangor, Maine--to be standing beside a beached Humvee, beside a private named Johnson who had arrived at this point in time from Solon, Maine?  And where, after all, had the flash of light come from? They were in a dry, featureless plain, and the mountains, arguably the most rugged mountains in the world, were too far away to provide a sniper with sufficient height. So how could there be a flash of light, gunfire, when all the world lay flat and even and empty?
      That's when it occurred to Sgt. Thomas Kennedy that a mosquito is not always a mosquito.
      Because he felt his hand shatter, the bones flying apart under his skin, his cheek exploding so that he tasted teeth and blood in the same instant. Oh, he thought. Just that. What they had feared, what they had all feared, had finally arrived. They were pinned down and a mosquito is not a mosquito and he turned and spread his arms--ridiculously like a crossing guard--and tried to protect Private Johnson.
Now, that's why I call writing that head-locks you and doesn't let up even when you cry "Uncle!"  If Monninger's book carries out the promise of its first two pages, then this will be the best kind of novel that guarantees you'll burn dinner and forget to feed the dog.  Here's the Jacket Copy (which, like I said, probably would have made me keep walking on by if it weren't for those opening paragraphs):
Margaret Kennedy lives on a dairy farm in rural Maine. Her husband Thomas—injured in a war overseas—will never be the man he was. When the President signs a bill in support of wounded veterans, Margaret is invited to the nation’s capital. Charlie King, a handsome Foreign Service officer, volunteers to escort her. As the rhododendron blossoms along the Blue Ridge Highway, the unlikely pair fall in love—but Margaret cannot ignore the tug of her marriage vows.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Soup and Salad: Junot Diaz' Silences, Antoine Wilson's Voice, Tim O'Brien's Peace Prize, The Value of a Book, Win a Picnic Basket for Your Book Club, Bid on Fobbit, Three Southern-Fried Knee-Slappers

On today's menu:

1.  At The Story Prize blog, Junot Diaz has an elegant piece on the quiet interstices he creates in his fiction:
I've always been interested in how you write silences. How do you include or mark in a piece of fiction what isn’t said between the characters, the narrative that is missing even from the characters’ perceptions of the world. How do you as a storyteller account for traces of the erased, the denied or that flat out vanished? These are concerns that sit with me always when I write stories. I often begin my stories by first sketching their primal silence and then elaborating the story around that silence. Sometimes what's missing is pretty obvious to the reader: a character or a place that’s disappeared and that the characters do not wish to confront. But other times it’s far more cryptic, a silence that I keep to myself but whose resonances power the prose, work like a dark energy on the matter of the prose.

2.  You should definite check out Bookfox's interview with Antoine WilsonPanorama City, Wilson's second novel, was one of the best, most unique novels I read this year.  It's dominated by the unforgettable voice of Oppen Porter, who narrates his life story into a tape recorder (meant to be played one day for his unborn son) as he lies in a hospital bed on the brink of death.  At least, Oppen thinks he's on that brink.  You'll have to read the entirety of this warm, funny book to find out what really happens.  In the Bookfox interview, Wilson talks about how he created Oppen's rambling, looping, completely endearing monologue:
It’s funny—I’ve heard this question about voice several times now, and I’m never sure how to answer it. I don’t know exactly what voice means. It seems to cover everything you mention, from an entire worldview to a character’s diction to intentionally corrupted grammar in service of a “spoken” feel. As you can imagine, trying to source all of that after the fact feels futile.  As a writer, I’m hesitant to answer for what I’ve done, for two reasons: 1. The process itself is so mysterious (it feels frustrating, mainly, while it’s happening, but ends up being mysterious); and 2. I can’t remember how anything gets developed. All I have is a pile of notes, a series of drafts, a bunch of files on my computer. I suppose I could go back, forensically, and try to understand my own process, but I don’t think that would do anyone any good, least of all me.  All that aside, the worldview comes from my own optimism blended with various aspects of Don Quixote; the folksy wisdom comes from a love for aphorism blended with Candide, and the language itself is an approximation of local speech blended with the thought-spirals-in-text of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. The process was one of writing and discarding a series of first drafts, increasing in length until I had a novel. Probably four complete and unique drafts up to about a hundred pages before I sorted it out. Please note that if I could do it any other way, I would.

3.  Stop!  Stop whatever you're doing right now, follow this link, and take four minutes to listen to Tim O'Brien's comments after he was awarded the 2012 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award by the organizers behind the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.  It might move even the  most heart-hardened among you to get a little misty-eyed, especially when O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried, chokes up at the thought of winning a "peace" prize after being labeled a "war writer" his entire career.  Here's a snippet of his remarks:
It seems as a culture, maybe as a world, we're surrounded by pressures to sanitize war, to dress it up, to glorify it. Think of the Veterans Day parades and the 4th of July, and what you see on television. That stuff contains elements of truth--there is self-sacrifice of men who go off to battle, there are acts of great valor and courage--but it's not the whole story. The whole story includes evil--a day-by-day nastiness you don't witness on television, you don't get in movies, and you very rarely get in books. Hour by hour, it's like being dipped in crankcase oil....The role of art--whether it's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or screenwriting--is to press back against this hardened carapace of insulating us from the realities of what war is.

4.  At the Book Pregnant blog, Nancy Bilyeau discusses the price tag of a book--specifically the consumer cost of e-books, a value which often fluctuates and dips down to the basement level.  Sending book prices in a plummet eventually gives some readers a sense of entitlement at being able to get books for ridiculously cheap prices (or, as is more often the case, free).  This is all well and good, Bilyeau argues, but please don't also get outraged at having to pay "full" price for something we writers have worked on for years (and sometimes decades, as will be the case with my own second novel, Dubble):
My novel, The Crown, is currently priced at $9.99 for e-book. Many novels cost about that. I worked on my book for five years, researching and writing, taking classes and workshops. Traveling. Getting up at 5 a.m. so I could make my word count before the children woke up and I had to go to the office. Drawing on my love of Tudor England and the thriller genre, I crafted the best book I possibly could. It was edited by talented people, with a striking cover. Is my e-book worth $9.99? In my opinion, yes.  Let's talk about entertainment, because that's what many novels are. I am fine with that. In cities, movie tickets these days are set at about $10 for adults. So my novel is not as much of a value as a couple of hours with Skyfall or Taken: 2 or, good grief, Paranormal Activity 4? When you tell a novelist that their book--in many cases, their dream--should be priced at a dollar or two, rather than nine or ten, you're saying their dream is not worth as much as Paranormal Activity 4 and should instead cost as much as the Diet Coke someone sips while watching it.
5.  One of the most delightful things (and there were many) about Sere Prince Halverson's debut novel The Underside of Joy was the description of the gourmet "foodie" store the book's main character, Ella, opens in Northern California after the tragic death of her husband.  As I turned the pages, my mouth kept watering whenever Halverson wrote about the delicacies stocked on the shelves of Life's a Picnic.  Wine, artisan cheeses, smoked meats: I think I gained five pounds just reading The Underside of Joy.  But now you, dear reader, have the opportunity to win a picnic basket of your own.  If you're a member of a book club, you can sign up for a Skype chat with Halverson and be entered in a drawing for a well-stocked basket to be delivered to your door just in time for your meeting to discuss The Underside of Joy.

6.  Speaking of winning, this Saturday (December 1), the LitChat website will be holding a charity auction on Twitter where readers can bid on copies of signed books and other literary prize packages.  Fobbit will be one of those books, along with novels by Robert Goolrick, Mitch Albom, Lydia Netzer, Erika Robuck and several others.  The auction will benefit Reader-To-Reader, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to expanding literacy and learning opportunities for the nation’s most chronically underserved and vulnerable communities, including inner-city schools, Native American reservations, and poor rural towns.  You don't have to be on Twitter to bid on the books--so, please come join us on Saturday for this good cause.  Click here for details on how to bid.

7.  The Barnes and Noble Review recently invited me to contribute to the Guest Books feature.  I jumped at the chance to choose three examples of Southern humor. One of those picks was Stray Decorum, George Singleton's new collection of South Carolina-based short stories just out from Dzanc Books, a book which "lovingly lampoons the residents of his Confederate-state universe.  'People we get who ain't from around here, they come in thinking they'll be surrounded by the lost and losing.  But we're some regular philosophers, when it all boils down,' says one character as he sits at a bar which, by the way, doesn't carry light beers -- 'only Budweiser, Pabst, and regular Miller, all in cans.'"  Click here to see my other two favorite Southern-fried knee-slappers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fobbit: a New York Times Notable Book

Shock and awe.
Disbelief and delight.
Thank you, New York Times, for including my book on this year's list of literary dazzlers.

Scanning the list, I see I've only read 5 out of the 100 (all on the fiction list).  Looks like I've got my work cut out for me in the months ahead.

And you?  How many of these have you read?

Monday, November 26, 2012

My First Time: Adam Braver

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Adam Braver, the author of five novels, most recently Misfit.  His previous works of fiction include Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories, November 22, 1963, Crows over the Wheatfield, and Divine Sarah.  Braver's books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Borders' Original Voices series, the IndieNext list, and twice for the Book Sense list, as well as having been translated into Italian, Japanese, Turkish, and French.  He is on faculty and writer-in-residence at Roger Williams University, and also regularly works at the New York State Summer Writers Institute.

My First Silence of Open Space

January 1978. For a reason I still don’t understand, Beat poet Michael McClure came to my high school and spoke to us in the library. And for another reason that I don’t understand, I found my fourteen-year-old self chatting with him afterward, picking his brain about literature and writers. His eyes bugged and darted with a combination of restless energy and intense focus. Several times he broke the conversation to say that he had the seen the future the previous night. It had been at Winterland in San Francisco, and this future was the Sex Pistols; McClure was reeling to me about how the world as we know it was gone, upended and given way to this future world. (That it ended up being the Sex Pistols’ final concert—discounting a disingenuous reunion tour two decades later—is worth noting, but beside the point.) As someone who was keenly interested in either the past or the future, perhaps to a fault, I took the cue from McClure, and I soon found myself expanding my musical repertoire, now knee-deep into an era of music that we’d later know as Punk and its tamer cousin, New Wave. So from that morning in the high school library came two important firsts:

1. Cut to October, 1982. Coming down the steps of the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California. My friend Scott Busby and I have just seen the Clash. We’re blown away and amazed. We’re shouting as we walk onto J Street—our ears are stuffed, both from the amplifiers and the cotton that it later took a doctor to flush out. As mesmerized as we’ve been by the Clash (by Joe Strummer’s sneer and prowess, by Mick Jones’ bounce and dockside confidence, and by the sheer wall of volume and disregard for convention), our first instinct, our first reaction, is that we want to do it ourselves. There is nothing subtle about the conversation. No innuendo. No slow deliberations. Or feeling out each other’s perspectives. Our pronouncement is direct and brazen. And it feeds our ongoing discussions of the types we are (we’re the type who . . .); and in this case it’s that we are the types of people who would rather be on the stage than be the types of people who sit and watch the stage. And though it was youthful dogma and hubris, it was also, I suppose, a liberation of sorts—that I could work to live my life as someone who experienced through creating.

2. Not as dramatic, but stemming from the Michael McClure visit, was the introduction to so much new music. It came from all directions, constantly shaping and reshaping my worldview. Much of it has become forgotten and discarded. But some of it still remains immensely meaningful and formative, important in ways that I wouldn’t realize until I’d think about it somewhat methodically years later (actually, although I can barely type this, thirty years later). Today, I’m thinking about the first Talking Heads record, called 77. It wasn’t so much the lyrics (which at the time were attracting the lion’s share of attention among my crowd, with their so-called quirky images and ironic commentary on American suburban life), but it was the simplicity of the music and the arrangements. I suppose that now we would call it minimalism. At that point in my life, I didn’t think about terms, nor did they interest me in the least. Everything was visceral. The songs and arrangements on that album had both a power and a space that combined in ways that I never knew. You could almost feel the power of what was not being played, just as pronounced as what was being played. I’ll spare you further music criticism, only to say that that balance was one that I forever wanted to strike (again, even though it was internalized and didn’t really consciously affect me until so much later in my life). To this day, when I’m writing or revising, I think that I want the narrative to sound like 77. I don’t know exactly what that means when it comes to words, only that I want the power and simplicity, the beauty and the elegance, and the tension and force that comes from the silence of open space.

And so there’s one first, but a first that’s so representative of the multitudes of firsts I’ve had, where a situation that makes no sense produces a suggestion to me (me being someone who is forever susceptible, vulnerable, curious, and obsessive); and then I find myself tracking it down, and like some kind of bastard family tree, I’ll later see that the suggestion has splintered into other directions and ideas that I never ever would have imagined. And all stemming from reasons I still don’t understand.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Join me on Booktalk Nation

On December 5, I'll be on the live-interview program Booktalk Nation, starting at 7 pm EST.  I'll be talking with novelist Sarah Bird and I hope you can tune in for the conversation.  Booktalk Nation is a new program which aims to duplicate the kind of events you'd find at your local independent bookstore.  Here's how it works (according to BTN's website):
How do I hear a Talk? How long will it last?  To reserve a space at a Booktalk, enter your e-mail address. We’ll send you a message with a phone number and access code for the talk or with a URL for a video talk.  On the day of the talk, call in or log on a few minutes before it starts. The author will begin speaking momentarily and continue for about 30 minutes.
How can I ask a question?  After you register for a talk, a field appears for you to submit a question. And at some talks, you will be able to ask the author a question directly.  Please note: authors will not always have time to answer every question that listeners submit.
To register for the Abrams-Bird interview, go to this page and sign up with your email address.

One of the great things about Booktalk Nation is that it wholly supports independent bookstores by allowing listeners to buy signed copies of the authors' books.  In my case, you'll be able to order Fobbit from The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, MT; and you can order Sarah's novel The Gap Year from BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

When the Booktalk Nation producers first contacted me about the event and asked if I had any suggestions for interviewers, I didn't hesitate one iota of a nanosecond before blurting out: "Sarah Bird!"  Those of you who were at the Texas Book Festival last month may remember that Sarah was scheduled to moderate the discussion between Ben Fountain and me, but she fell ill at the very last minute (as in, we were all sitting around the green room and there was Sarah, suddenly stretched out on the sofa--she's fine now, but she gave us all a scare).  My friend and fellow novelist Amanda Eyre Ward did a terrific job stepping in as moderator, but I know Sarah felt bad about missing the panel.  So, the Dec. 5 event will be like "Texas Book Festival, Pt. II: The Redemption."

Texas Book Festival: Ben + David - Sarah = :(

By the way, you should definitely mark your calendars for these upcoming Booktalk Nation events: Ian Frazier (with Roy Blount Jr.), Emma Straub (with Lauren Groff), and then Lauren Groff (with Emma Straub).  These are just a few of the guests, check out the whole roster at the website.

Photo by John Anderson

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dubble: a novel about Hollywood

At nearly every stop of the Fobbit book tour, I was asked that question which most writers dread (because they're superstitious? because they don't want to commit?): "What's your next book about?"

I've been dropping enough hints in person and in interviews, I thought it was time I talked about it here on the blog.   This also coincides with the fact that, precisely two hours ago, I dove back into revisions on the manuscript in full force.

That's right: revisions.  Most of those same interrogators gave me a double-take, arched-eyebrows look when I told them that my "next" novel has already been written.  In fact, it was completed long before the first word of Fobbit was ever typed.  (I put "next" in quotation marks because I have no guarantee this will be my second published book.  It still needs some work and there's no telling if anyone will be interested in bringing it to print.  All I can say is, it's my passion and my obsession right now and I'm putting all my energy into its polished completion.)

I just went back into my journal and found this one-line entry:

May 18, 1993: Started Dubble today.

I spent the next six years writing the novel, then put it in the proverbial desk drawer, intending to go back and revise it after taking a couple months off.  However, I went to war instead and subsequently was consumed by writing, revising and (miracle of miracles) publishing Fobbit.

Now it's time for Dubble to have its day.

Set in the 1940s, it's narrated by David Dubble, a little person (as he's quick to tell you, he's not a midget, he's not a dwarf--he's hypopituitary) who at age 18 leaves his home in Idaho and heads to Hollywood where he gets his lucky break working as a stuntman/bodyguard for child actor Eddie Danger, the reigning box-office champ.  That's as much as I'll tell you for now.  This opening passage from Dubble will give you a good idea of the novel's tone and direction:

Some people say certain smells bring back their childhood: gingerbread, wet pavement, a mother's hand lotion.  For me, the dogs of memory are unleashed at the mere mention of an Eddie Danger movie.  Every title brings a wince, a jolt, a chemical memory of pain.

The Littlest Caesar.  Ramada, Bayou Avenger.  Highball Heaven.  Miss Petticoat’s Peril.

Say the word and I’m back there on the set, remembering how I loved every minute of it…but suffered every lousy, goddamned minute of it, too.

I was eighteen when I arrived in Hollywood; Eddie was eleven.  We were separated by seven years and three inches.  I wasn't what you'd call a dwarf—normal-sized hands and head, no rolling waddle when I walked.  I was, technically-speaking, hypopituitary.  My bones had stopped growing when I was in grade school.  Sure, it gave me a low-to-the-ground perspective on life, but I didn't mind, especially when it got me a job working for Eddie Danger.

For nearly three years in the 1940s, during Hollywood's so-called Golden Age, I was Eddie's stuntman—the one to take the falls, duck the punches, swim the rapids.  I was the one to grit my teeth when my ankle twisted after a bad two-story gag, to choke on a lungful of river water, to steer the car into the brick wall at forty miles per hour then fly through the windshield like a cannon-shot rag doll.  I did all that while Eddie Danger sat in a silk bathrobe in his dressing room, his soft, fourteen-year-old rump nestled gently on a velveteen throw pillow while a buxom make-up girl fed him unpeeled grapes.

So who can blame me if I'm wracked by a bitter blast of pain when you mention how much you loved The Adventures of Timmy Swain and how you just adored Eddie, especially when he swung across the ballroom on the chandelier, scooped up the princess with one arm, then landed on the opposite balcony, stealing a kiss along the way.  Excuse me while I cough up an ounce of bile, okay?  That was me on the chandelier and the "girl" never gave me a kiss.  In fact, the girl was a mannequin dressed to look like Judy Garland.  And Judy never had the time of day for me, let alone a peck on the cheek—that was all reserved for adorable little Eddie.

It's not that I hated my years at Paradiso Studios or resented Eddie for being America's Number-One Spoiled Brat.  No, "hate" and "resentment" are the wrong words for what coursed through my veins.  Call it weary resignation which gradually led to antipathy.  I was good friends with Gabby Hayes back then and though he was paid well for being John Wayne's sidekick, he'd often turn to me, usually after the third or fourth beer, and grumble: "If I have to say 'Yer durn tootin'' one more time, I'm gonna fuckin' vomit!"

Gabby and I both loved Hollywood and cherished our small roles in America's Dream Factory, but some days the business, and the pint-sized tyrants who dictated our days, just wore us down to a bloody nub.

On the other hand, there was always that shameless joy of seeing yourself up on the screen—even if you were only the shadowy half of a fourteen-year-old wunderkind, the Top Box Office Star for 1939, 1940 and 1942.

In the early films, my screen time was minimal, fleeting shots where I tumbled off horses, broke through windows, writhed on sawmill conveyor belts, sledded down bars while beer drinkers grabbed their mugs out of the way.  Then, as time went on, I got more scenes, some without any significant rough action.  There were numerous shots of my shoulders, my back, the rims of my ears.  All this time, Eddie would be in his dressing room, petulantly learning his next lines while I handled the from-the-rear reaction shots.  I’d wear lots of hats and hold a hand over my face as if Eddie was deep in thought.

But Eddie was about as introspective as a tick bug.  He lived for the moment, the playroom, the fizzing high life poured to overflowing.  Eddie never gave a second thought to anything or anyone.…including—especially—me.

I remember one time in particular.  We were near the end of shooting Eddie's next-to-last film (though none of us knew it at the time).  Mention the words Little Dixie and it all comes back to me like wet pavement: the sharp smell of gunpowder, the rattle of bayonets, the taste of blood.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Freebie: Fobbit

Congratulations to Beverly Sizemore, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: Lunch Bucket Paradise: A True-Life Novel by Fred Setterberg.

For this week's book giveaway, I'm offering three, count 'em three, prize packages of Fobbit swag.  Regular readers of The Quivering Pen are already well-acquainted with the book, but for those of you who accidentally landed here after typing an "F" instead of an "H," hoping to learn more about the Peter Jackson's Hollywood treatment of Tolkein's The Hobbit, here's a brief recap of what my novel from Grove/Atlantic is all about:
In the satirical tradition of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H, Fobbit takes us into the chaotic world of Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Triumph. The Forward Operating base, or FOB, is like the back-office of the battlefield – where people eat and sleep, and where a lot of soldiers have what looks suspiciously like an office job. Male and female soldiers are trying to find an empty Porta Potty for casual sex, infantry "grunts" are playing Xbox and watching NASCAR between missions, and a lot of the senior staff are more concerned about getting to the chow hall in time for the Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood special than worrying about little things like military strategy.  The book centers around the day-in, day-out cubicle wars of FOB Triumph's headquarters building; in particular, the attempts by the Public Affairs Office to spin the war into something palatable--ideally, patriotic--for the American public.  In its review of the novel, The Washington Post wrote: "What’s most intriguing about this work is that, at its center, it is both a clever study in anxiety and an unsettling expose of how the military tells its truths. Fobbit traces how 'the Army story' is crafted, the dead washed of their blood, words scrutinized, and success applied to disasters."

This week, just in time your Yuletide gift-giving convenience, I'm offering three different ways to win a copy of Fobbit:

1.  One person will win the following: two signed copies of Fobbit, a Fobbit coffee mug, a Fobbit T-shirt (unfortunately, I only have one size left in stock: XL--maybe your cousin Ralph, former high-school linebacker, would like to wear it?), the audiobook version of Fobbit (nine CDs narrated by David Drummond), a Fobbit tote bag, and official Fobbit postcards (collectors' items!).

2.  One person will win the following: one signed copy of Fobbit,  the audiobook version of Fobbit, and a Fobbit tote bag.

3.  One person will win one signed copy of Fobbit.

If you'd like a chance at winning one of the three Fobbit prize packages, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 29at which time I'll draw the winning names. I'll announce the three lucky readers on Nov. 30.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving in Baghdad

I hate to break in on all your happy, Kodak-ready holiday moments, but it's my duty to remind you there are, at this very moment, about 66,000 of men and women serving in the U.S. military who are having a pretty glum Thanksgiving in Afghanistan.  Yes, there will be impromptu football games on dusty fields in Kabul and dining facilities will pull out all the stops for remarkable feasts, but there will also be instances of overwhelming loneliness and depression...and perhaps a few deaths.  Please remember these men and women as you're tucking into your own Thanksgiving feast.

To remind myself of this very thing, I went back to the journal I kept during my year in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.  I was nearing the end of my tour in the combat zone, and from the sounds of it, I was in a sour, angry mood.  Can you blame me?

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

November 23, 2005:  Several deaths today—the day before Thanksgiving, of all days.

First one was an apparent suicide—soldier found in his hootch.  Single gunshot wound to the head.

In the afternoon, came a report that started off as small-arms fire, then changed to an Improvised Explosive Device, then was quickly deleted from the Significant Activities reports.  The battle captain came to me personally and said, “Don’t do anything with a press release on it just yet.  Hold off for a little while.  Looks like it might be a blue-on-blue incident.”  Which is milspeak for “friendly fire.”

A platoon on patrol had split into two elements—one mounted, one dismounted.  The guys on foot came under fire from a house and the platoon leader stormed into the house where the gunfire came from.  The platoon leader was wounded and the senior non-commission officer assumed control of the situation.  When he couldn’t establish radio contact with the rest of his platoon in the mounted element, he decided to use a blue civilian truck to evacuate the wounded lieutenant back to the mounted element.  He loaded everyone into the truck and started driving back to the rest of his platoon.  What he didn't know was that the truck would be identified as belonging to a terrorist organization.  Seeing the Anti-Iraqi Forces vehicle barreling toward them, the other soldiers opened fire, killing two of the NCOs.  Tragedy.  A goddamn fucking tragedy of mistakes.

*     *     *

Also received a report today of a unit which had discovered a weapons cache which included some Beanie Babies with hand grenades stuffed inside them.  This is the latest evil deviousness of the enemy.

November 24, 2005:  Thanksgiving.

Perhaps the most melancholy day I’ve spent here so far.  All I could think about all day long was what Jean and the kids were doing back in Georgia: cooking the turkey, lazing around in their pajamas until mid-afternoon, going to see a movie (it’s a family tradition) after the meal.  I started feeling really sorry for myself and got pelted by waves of loneliness and homesickness.

My feelings were compounded by the deaths from the day before as I thought about how someone’s Thanksgiving was suddenly tuned into a personal hell when the casualty assistance officers showed up on their doorstep.  Maybe the house was still filled with the smell of just-baked pumpkin pies, now cooling on the counter.

At the end of the morning briefing, the Chief of Staff came on and told us:  “Okay, everybody have a reasonably good day.  On a day that is normally spent with family and in leisure, you find yourself here in the Baghdad battlespace.  We still have a mission to complete and I commend you all for the sacrifices you are making.”

Hardly words of comfort for those of us who were already aching and pining, but I’ll accept the sentiment, no matter how forced it sounded.

Sergeant 1st Class C., always a bitter person, was even more jaded today.  When someone wished him a Happy Thanksgiving, he said, “What do I have to be thankful for?  I’m getting extra pay for being 3,000 miles away from my wife.  Yee-haw.”

Diana, the Iraqi interpreter who works in the Information Operations cell, said, “Well, be thankful you’re still alive.”

“I’m thankful for that every day,” Sgt. 1st Class C. snapped back.  “I don’t need a special day for that.”

Work piled up in the cubicle and overwhelmed me today, which was a good thing, I suppose.  I was soon so busy with press releases and media calls (“So, what’s it like spending Thanksgiving 3,000 miles away from your family?” one reporter asked me; “Are you guys doing anything different today?” another asked), that I didn’t have time to think of basting turkeys, bringing Jean coffee in bed, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, or sleeping off the turkey coma in the early afternoon.

I finally reached a small breathing space around noon where I could break away and go to the dining facility for lunch.  I stood in line for nearly 25 minutes before I got in the front door (as opposed to just walking right in on any other given day).  The food was good, but not spectacular.  I loaded my plate with fresh-carved turkey, shrimp cocktail (by far the best thing I had all day), ham (dried like a piece of pink shoe leather), stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob and pumpkin pie.  I sat down at a table by myself (when you’re feeling lonely, you just want to be left alone).  Within a few minutes, Iraqi interpreters had joined me, surrounding me on all sides.  So, my Thanksgiving meal was spent with the stereophonic babble of Arabic.

I returned to the office and got right back to work.  We were all feeling sated from the meal, burping up sweet potatoes, when an air-sucking boom rattled the building.  We hushed, stopped what we were doing.  Someone said, “Oh my.”  We thought of lives suddenly lost.  And we were all feeling gloomy about those needless Thanksgiving deaths until the loudspeakers overhead announced it was a controlled detonation by our own engineers.  Then we all went back to our chatter about football, deep-fried turkeys and how much we all hate it here.

* * *

If you'd like to help service members feel a little less lonely during their deployments, there are any number of organizations who can help you get cards, letters, and care packages overseas (trust me, I know firsthand how opening a box of beef jerky, Louis L'Amour paperbacks, and crayon-art by third graders can brighten even the worst of days).  I recommend two in particular: Any Soldier and Operation Paperback.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fobbit Tour: Finale in Miami

The End.  Finito.  The Last Bow.  The Final Curtain.

I looked out at the 15 people sitting in the classroom at Miami Dade College and, though I tried not to show it, I felt a pang of wistfulness.  These were the last ears to hear me read from Fobbit on this final stop of the 25-city, 44-day book tour.

Sure, there will be a couple of readings and signings in the coming weeks and I already have a few events lined up for 2013, but my appearance at the Miami Book Fair International marked the end of a tour which was equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration.  On this day before Thanksgiving, I have nothing but gratitude for a multitude of people who made these past three months successful beyond my wildest expectations.

First of all, none of this would have happened without the generous backing--financial and logistical--of my publisher.  Though a lot of publishing world pundits believe that book tours are an expensive undertaking which sees little return in sales, Grove/Atlantic brushed all that aside and put me out on the road in full force.  There's a good chance they didn't recoup the costs with sales of Fobbit at the book tour venues, but one thing's for certain: they gave me the boost of confidence and credibility I needed at the start of this late-blooming career of mine.  I've talked to plenty of fellow writers on this tour and nearly all of them are amazed and jealous at how supportive Grove/Atlantic has been to me.  Anecdotally, I know of only two other publishers (Graywolf Press and Algonquin Books) who back their writers with the same degree of love and faith.  A year ago, soon after Fobbit sold to Grove/Atlantic, the editor of a well-known literary journal said to me, "A friend of mine is a Grove author and she told me that when you're with Grove, you're in the family for life."  She's not kidding.  Before this gets too sappy and goopy, let me shout out my deepest and most hearfelt THANKS to Morgan, Peter, and--most especially--Deb and Jodie, publicists extraordinaire.

Big thanks to the independent booksellers who have so enthusiastically embraced my novel: Quail Ridge Books, The Tattered Cover, Powell's, Brazos Bookstore, and University Bookstore in Seattle (among others).  In particular, the biggest of thanks goes to the three bookstores here in Montana who have been such persuasive champions of Fobbit: Fact and Fiction in Missoula, The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, and Elk River Books in Livingston.  You are all armor-clad warriors out there on the front lines of the publishing wars and I think I speak for all writers when I say we would be nothing but overlooked books with low-rankings on Amazon if it weren't for your efforts to win readers, one chime of the cash-register bell at a time.

Along those same lines, thank you to Barnes and Noble who so generously picked Fobbit to be part of the Discover Great New Writers program.  I don't know how "great" I am, but I'm certainly new and the kind of visibility B&N can give debut novels like mine makes a world of difference in putting the book in the hands of readers.

Thanks to the radio show hosts who brought into their studios, in person and via phone, and let me stammer into the microphone for a few minutes: Sam, Quil, Jennifer, Ed, Cherie, Hopeton, and Jim.

A big salute and manly hug to Karl Marlantes who took me under his wing and showed me what a true professional looks like.  If I was in awe of his writing in Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War and What It Is Like To Go To War before I met him, then I was even more bowled over by his kindness and generosity during our two appearances together in Seattle and Portland.

Handshakes all around to the writers I met on the road and shared some panel/reading space with at events: Ben Fountain, Bill Roorbach, Cathy Buchanan, Scott Hutchins, Raina Telgemeir, Kim Barnes, Jess Walter, Alyson Hagy, and my Book Pregnant gal-pals Lydia Netzer, Barbara Claypole White, Brenda Remmes and Anne Barnhill.  A special high-five to Mark Leyner and Antoine Wilson, my co-panelists at the tour's last event: Miami Book Fair International.

Let me interrupt myself for a moment here and put in a plug for their new novels: Antoine's Panorama City and Mark's The Sugar Frosted Nutsack.  I devoured both of them in the week prior to my flight to Miami--indeed, I finished Mark's Nutsack on the plane just as we landed in Florida.  Both novels are--well, there's no other word for them but comic masterpieces.  I don't throw that "M" word around lightly, so when I do, you know I really mean it.  Panorama City is narrated by one of the most distinct and endearing characters I've met since John Irving's Owen Meany (again, high praise).  Through a series of audio cassettes, Oppen Porter tells his life story to his unborn son while he--Oppen--lies in a hospital bed on the brink of death (or so he believes).  Oppen speaks in these big long cascades of words that tumble, tumble, tumble across the page.  He's an innocent (borderline naive) man making his way through an odd, messy world.  Once you meet him, you'll never forget Oppen.  I guaran-damn-tee it.

The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack is just as memorable for the way it bends but never breaks the English language.  There is no simple way to sum up the "plot" of Leyner's novel, but essentially it's about the gods (like El Brazo, also known as the God of Virility, the God of Urology and the God of Pornography, with his "pomaded hair swept back into a frothy nape of curls like the wake of a speedboat") and how the gods fuck around with one man's life: Ike Karton, a 48-year-old butcher from Jersey City.  Along the way, there's a chorus of self-blinded bards who give day-long performances of The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack--essentially reciting the book we're reading while dribbling orange soda down their chins (the bards, that is, not you the reader--though if you want to slurp Sunkist Orange soda while reading the book, I have no objections).  The book is all very meta-meta and endlessly loops and spirals in on itself, making for one very delirious, delicious ride for the reader.

Now, back to the Thank You's...

I would be remiss (and living in the proverbial doghouse) if I didn't thank my biggest cheerleader and supporter: my wife Jean.  For the past three months, she's been a lonely "author's widow" while I've been out on the road.  Separation is always hard on both of us, but I've been touched by how many times Jean has told me on the phone, "Go have fun tonight" when I know she's back in the empty house in Butte, facing another night of reheated Chinese take-out, reruns of Dateline, and one-sided conversations with the cats.  Though I did have limited amounts of "fun" on the road at festivals, publishing trade shows, and bookstore readings, you can bet I'm more than happy to be back home where I belong.

And finally, the biggest thanks of all goes out to the hundreds of people who turned out to hear me read from Fobbit at bookstores and book festivals.  Though I was bummed I couldn't make it to certain parts of the country (especially Arizona and anything north of North Carolina), the tour took me on a cross-country, state-stitching journey that I'll never forget.  Along the way, I reconnected with loved ones (my nephew Mark in Seattle, old friends Pam and Joe in Minneapolis), dozens of acquaintances from Facebook, Twitter, Epinions, Readerville and other cyber locations, and several surprises like old Army buddies (Pete in Atlanta and Darryl in Miami), my freshman English teacher, and--get this--my father's first girlfriend (now in her 70s, she weirded me out when she said, "Just think, if things had gone a little differently for your dad and I, you might have been calling me 'Mom'").  Thank you to everyone who came, who listened, who purchased, and who applauded.  I love you all.

Now if you'll excuse, I'm going to slip back out of sight.  I have another book to write.